Despite less than ideal climatic conditions, featuring storms which threatened an otherwise perfect year, most parts of California had an excellent year for viticulture. Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs were picked at optimum ripeness, and Californian white wine was just about as good as it could be. Surprises and overcoming difficulties summed up much of the United States' wine industry in 2009, and many of the results from Oregon, Washington State and all over California speak for themselves, with the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon grapes having developed healthy, thick skins and thus plenty of character and distinction. Elsewhere in the New World, South Africa had a very good year in 2009, and wineries across the cape of the African continent are proclaiming it a truly great vintage.
In most of Europe, fine weather and punctual ripening periods produced some excellent wines, with many of the best coming out of France's Bordeaux and the surrounding regions. Merlot had an exceptionally good year in France, and wineries are proclaiming that the 2009 Merlot harvest was one of the best in living memory. Indeed, across most of France, ripening was relatively even, and red wine grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Syrah and others were reportedly highly characterful, with plenty of the required tannin levels with which to make high quality wines. Italy, too, had a very good 2009. Piedmont reported extremely favorable conditions throughout 2009, and their signature Nebbiolo grapes were more or less perfect when harvested, having benefited from the slight drop in temperature at the end of their ripening period. Veneto, too, had an enviable year, producing superb Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay wines in 2009.
For centuries now, the beautiful red grapes of the Barbera varietal have been grown in Italy, where they are prized for their unusual high acid content and low tannins, brought about by their thin skins. The Barbera grape varietal thrives in warmer climates, and has had some success overseas in the new world, where its strongly aromatic flavors of intense hedgerow fruits make it a favorite with wineries and wine drinkers looking for a grape which offers plenty of interesting characteristics. Interestingly, the differences between young and aged wines made from this varietal are quite significant, with younger bottles holding a plethora of berry flavors, including blueberry and raspberry notes, and oak aged wines made from the Barbera grape being much loved for their ability to become extremely complex and spicy, and picking up vanilla flavors from the wood they are barreled in.
n Italy, the region most closely associated with excellent quality red wines and characterful sparkling wines is Piedmont. This alpine region is located in the north-west of the country, and features beautiful foothills of the impressive mountain range which forms the nearby border between Italy, France and Switzerland. Wineries in Piedmont work with the Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera grapes which thrive in the warm, dry summers and cooler autumns, as well as the beautifully expressive Moscato grapes which are used for the sparkling Asti wines the region is famed for. For generations, these wineries have perfected the art of aging their red wines, and blending grape varietals to get the most out of each one, leading to a region known all over the world for the exceptional quality of its produce.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.